COVID-19 has exposed major flaws in Florida's beer laws; they need reboot | Opinion
Do I have your attention?
Few people realize that behind this simple word "beer" lies a labyrinth of regulations so tricky to navigate it seemingly requires two Ph.Ds to decipher them. How did a simple product, with a complicated history, find itself on the brink of collapse in Florida? Why is the future of one of Florida's fastest-growing industries tied to antiquated laws of the 1930s?
On Dec. 5, 1933, the 21st Amendment was ratified, repealing the 18th Amendment and the U.S. ban on alcohol — ending Prohibition.
Repeal set into motion states individually creating laws regarding how the reintroduction of alcohol would be sold. In 1933 Florida built the now infamous "3 Tier System" into its alcohol laws. In essence, the system allowed one to either A) Brew the beer, B) Sell the beer, or C) Distribute it. You weren't allowed to do all three.
Since primarily a few big-beer breweries like Anheuser Busch, Miller, and Coors survived Prohibition, lawmakers thought the 3 Tier System would prevent monopolies and create a level playing field, allowing smaller breweries to join the party. At first, it did. But it hasn't been so for some time.
Since 1933, more than 30 states have amended their laws to be more equitable for all 3 Tiers by allowing for "self-distribution," meaning breweries can sell their beer directly to retailers. In states with updated laws, breweries are permitted to sell at least some of their beer — within a short radius of the brewery's location — directly to bars, restaurants or liquor stores without the need for a distributor.
Florida, however, is not among them.
All beer sold by a brewery to a retailer must, by law, be sold through a distributor, regardless of how near (like across the street) or far away the retailer is. Furthermore, in those states with amended laws, breweries are permitted to sell at least some of their beer directly to bars, restaurants or liquor stores without the need for a distributor, which gets roughly a 30% discount on every keg we sell them.
I've done the math, and if we were allowed to self-distribute, breweries could generate tens of thousands dollars more revenue a year, which could allow us to do things like expand, grow and even offer our employees full health care benefits.
Two quick scenarios to illustrate why the current 3 Tier Systems is cumbersome.
Scenario 1: If a bar across the street from my brewery runs out of beer on a busy night, to get more beer, the bar owner can't call me and say, "Hey, Pete! We just blew a keg of your best IPA. It's Friday night, and we're slammed. I need another one fast! Can you bring a fresh keg over?"
That bar owner must call the distributor and order more beer.
Scenario 2: Let's say a bar owner needs beer, but the distributor doesn't have what they want in the warehouse. The distributor then has to send a truck to the brewery to pick up the requested beer for the bar (remember the brewery is literally across the street). Then that truck has to drive back to the warehouse (no matter how far away that is) and the beer must — again, by law — be unloaded into the warehouse.
Later it's reloaded to be delivered to the bar!
Here's another fun fact about the plight of breweries locked into distributors: Did you know that the 3 Tier System also stipulates that once a brewery signs a contract to distribute their beer, that contract is a lifetime contract? What other industry is like that? None, except ours.
Self-distribution is one tool that might alleviate the inefficiencies, or downright insanity, protect my finished product, and keep the wheels of the hospitality industry greased.
In 2019, craft beer brought $3.6 billion to Florida, according to The Brewer's Association. That placed us fifth overall in the nation, and it's not hard to imagine what Florida — with updated laws — might be able to draw. Breweries could even offer deliveries directly to retailers, perhaps even shipping or delivering our beer directly to consumers. After all, so many customers are following current recommendations to stay home, yet still want to support their local brewery.
I'm not advocating eliminating the 3 Tier System, but more so appealing to the state of Florida for some help in joining the other states that have fostered the benefits and economic boon that craft beer brings.
If you enjoy a good locally brewed pint, visit a site I launched, flbreweries4change.wixsite.com/selfdistroflnow, to write to your representatives and help us #SaveFloridaBeer.
Let's work together to free (the) beer and give Florida's craft brewers a fighting chance to survive. Now, and in the future.
Pete Anderson, a former teacher, opened Pareidolia Brewing, in Sebastian, in 2014.